The butterfly stroke is quite a distinctive swimming stroke. It looks spectacular, but is also difficult to learn and quite exhausting, even for accomplished swimmers.
For these reasons, many swimmers never bother to learn this stroke. However, in my opinion, they are missing out because once you have mastered it, swimming a few laps of butterfly can be a lot of fun, thanks to its peculiar and energetic movements.
Butterfly Stroke Video
Here is a video showing the butterfly stroke movements above and underwater:
Swimming Stroke Phases
Let us now analyze the different phases of the butterfly stroke. We imagine the swimmer is in the following initial position:
- The body floats in a prone position.
- The head is in a neutral position, face down.
- The arms are extended forward and shoulder-width apart. The palms are facing down.
- The legs are straight and held together.
- The feet are extended.
Now the stroke cycle begins:
- The body undulation is initiated by pressing the chest down in the water.
- The arm stroke begins when the chest is being released.
- The arms move apart and bend at the elbows so that the undersides of the forearms and the palms of the hands move into a backward-facing position called the catch.
- Once the arms are in the catch position, they move backward and inward toward the chest.
- At the same time, the hips are pushed down, and the legs bend at the knees.
- Once the hands meet below the chest, they change their direction to move toward the hips.
- As the hands move toward the hips, a first dolphin kick is performed.
- Shortly after that, the chest and shoulders peak above the water surface.
- As soon as the hands reach the hips, the arms leave the water and are swung forward sideways over the water.
- Once the arms are in front of the body, about shoulder-width apart, they enter the water and fully extend below the water surface.
- A second dolphin kick is performed as the arms extend under the water surface.
- The next stroke cycle begins.
The following articles cover the butterfly stroke technique in more detail:
Body Movement: The undulating movement of the body drives the butterfly stroke. This article explains how to perform this body undulation.
Arm Stroke: This article explains the different phases of the arm stroke and how to perform them correctly.
The Dolphin Kick: In the butterfly stroke, the legs move as one unit, similar to how a dolphin moves its tail, hence the name “dolphin kick.” In this article, we discuss the dolphin kick technique in more detail.
Breathing Technique: In this article, we discuss various aspects of breathing while swimming butterfly: when to breathe in, when to breathe out, how often to breathe, breathing to the side, etc.
Learn How to Swim
Learn How to Swim Butterfly: This article introduces you to our series of swimming drills to learn the butterfly stroke. This series can be divided into the following steps:
- First, you learn the body undulation and dolphin kick, which are the techniques that drive this swimming stroke.
- Next, you practice the underwater arm stroke.
- After that, you practice the above-water arm recovery.
- Finally, you combine all those techniques and gradually move on to swimming butterfly.
Maglischo, E. (2003). Swimming Fastest. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, pp. 145–180.
You may also be interested in the following articles that cover the butterfly stroke’s swimming technique: